In this lesson, you will learn how to learn and play major and minor scales on the guitar. We will cover what are scales, how to learn and practice scales, scale formulas, advantages of learning scales, scale shapes and different positions on the guitar.
What Are Scales In Music?
In music theory, a scale is any sequence of musical notes/tones or intervals dividing an octave. Different combinations/arrangements of notes/intervals form different scales like Major Scales, Minor Scale, Pentatonic Scale, Harmonic Minor Scale, Blues Scale etc.
How To Learn Scales
The best way to learn scales is by breaking them down into Intervals. An interval is simply a measurement of the distance between two notes. There are certain names given to different intervals.
Intervals are the foundation for building scales. Using the concept of Intervals, one can build any possible scale in music theory. Once you understand that everything is related to Intervals, learning and memorizing scales becomes logical. If you do not understand intervals, learn about intervals and basic music theory here.
How to start learning scales on guitar: —
- Understand Intervals and how scales are formed using intervals
- Learn scale formulas. All scales have a formula that can be derived using Intervals in music. Start with learning the major scale formula.
- Understand CAGED system.
- Once you know the major scale formula, play the particular notes in any key in any given position. It always helps to start with a root note.
- Explore the major scale across the neck. Try to play the scale across the fretboard in different positions. Relate the notes to previous positions. If you practice this to a metronome, nothing beats it.
- Always be mindful and listen to the notes. Try to sing along the notes while you play them.
- Once you get a hold of playing the major scale comfortably in any one position, try playing it along a backing track. Start with just one chord backing tracks. E.g. If you are playing the C Major scale, start with playing the scale on top of the C Major Chord. This will help your ear relate to how scales sound over chords.
- Next, play the major scale shapes and improvise a little over a backing track with more than one chord. A backing track with I-IV-V chord progression works best for beginners. You can also learn songs that use major scales and improvise.
- Once you get hold of a major scale, follow the same approach and learn other scales.
While learning scales as a beginner, keep the following in mind:-
- Beginners should start learning scales by understanding how they are built up using intervals.
- Do not rote learn scales, rather understand the logic behind them.
- Do not memorize scales visually — Learn By Ear. The visual aspect is important as a beginner but one should focus more on the tonal characteristics of each scale.
- Give it time. Learning music scales takes time. Do not overwhelm yourself with all the information. Keep it slow and simple. One new concept a day works best.
Advantages Of Learning Scales In Music
When you practice and learn scales, you unlock your creative potential. Learning scales will help you greatly in many ways as a musician or a guitar player:
- You Develop Your Ear: — Music without ears is like colours without eyes. Practising scales help you become a better listener. If you practice scale mindfully, you will develop your listening ability.
- You Understand Music Better: — Knowing a scale inside and out also sets a great foundation for improvisation. You will be able to play better and break down the music a lot better.
- You Understand Your Instrument A Lot Better
- You Develop Muscle Memory
- And Above All, SHRED: — If you wish to burn your guitar fretboard with speed, knowing scales is a must.
Order in Which You Should Learn Scales
The best order to learn scales for beginner guitar players is:
- Major Scale — Major scale acts as a reference scale, and you can relate other scales to a major scale.
- Natural Minor Scale — Minor scale varies only slightly from a major scale but sounds completely different. Learning major and minor scales first helps you grasp the concept of intervals and also acts as a good tonal reference for your ears.
- Pentatonic Scale — Pentatonic Scale is where the fun begins. It is easy, uses just 5 notes and is surely the most widely used scale by guitar players in all genres. Learn Major Pentatonic and Minor Pentatonic.
- Blues Scale — The name tells it all. Widely used in blues music. Combine it with minor scales, and you have a lot more fun.
- Melodic Minor Scale — This is a variation to the natural minor scale. Uses only one minor interval so sounds close to the major scale and easier to the ears.
- Harmonic Minor Scale — Harmonic minor uses major seventh interval instead of minor seventh interval in the natural minor scale.
Order In Which To Learn Scales
Notes In Key Of C
|Major Scale||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||C D E F G A B|
|Natural Minor Scale||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||C D Eb F G Ab Bb|
|Pentatonic Major Scale||1-2-3-5-6||C D E G A|
|Pentatonic Minor Scale||1-b3-4-5-b7||C Eb F G Bb|
|Blues Scale||1-b3-4-b5-5-b7||C Eb F Gb G Bb|
|Melodic minor scale||1-2-b3-4-5-6-7||C D Eb F G A B|
|Harmonic Minor||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7||C D Eb F G Ab B|
There are hundreds of scales that can be formed by different combinations of notes. Learning about scales is a must, but you will rarely find yourself implementing all of them.
While you learn and explore these scales, you will notice some of them(generally 3-4) resonate with your style of playing and musical preferences. Make these particular scales yours and just ignore the rest.
How To Practice Guitar Scales
Learning scales is all about getting a grasp of the essence and feel of the tones of that particular scale. It is not about speed. It is more about the ears than about the fingers. Practising scales is challenging and time taking. Beginners should spend at least a week with any particular scale before moving on to another scale. You need to be disciplined. To practice scales on guitar:
- Always try to use a metronome. Start on a slow tempo that you find comfortable according to your playing ability. In my experience, most beginners feel comfortable around 55-65 BPM.
- Pick any one scale in any key and practice that. The best place to start is C Major Scale. You can start in any position on the guitar that you feel comfortable with.
- Practice playing all the notes in this particular key over a metronome. If you sing along at a slow tempo, nothing like it. Singing helps you train vocals and ear train as well. L
- Gradually increase the tempo. If you started at 60BPM, move on to 70BPM. If you find it easy to play at 70 BPM, increase the tempo by another 10BPM. If you find it difficult to play at 70BPM, dial down the tempo to 65BPM and try. Try and achieve 90-100BPM efficiently. Do not increase tempo if you are finding it difficult to keep time.
- Jam over to backing track and music. Improvise and enjoy what you learned. You can also learn songs that use the scale that you learn.
- Once you make a particular scale, your own. Move on to learning other scales.
How long to practice scales each day?
Focus on being mindful and not mindless when you practice scales. Deliberate practice for even 10 minutes each day is more than sufficient. Focus on listening more than being visually present.
Major Scale Formula
Major Scale Formula is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.
So if you are in the key of C and you wish to play a C Major Scale, you play 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 intervals. In a major scale there are no minor intervals, hence the name major scale.
You can use the major scale formula with any key and construct a major scale.
Major Scales In Every Key
Major Scale Formula
|C||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||C D E F G A B C|
|Db/C#||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db|
|D||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||D E F# G A B C# D|
|Eb/D#||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb|
|E||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||E F# G# A B C# D# E|
|F||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||F G A Bb C D E F|
|Gb/F#||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||Gb Ab Bb Cb (=B) Db Eb F Gb|
|G||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||G A B C D E F# G|
|Ab/G#||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab|
|A||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||A B C# D E F# G# A|
|Bb/A#||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||Bb C D Eb F G A Bb|
|B||1-2-3-4-5-6-7||B C# D# E F# G# A# B|
Minor Scale Formula
Minor Scale Formula is 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7.
So if you are in the key of C and you wish to play a C Minor Scale, you play 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 intervals. This is the natural minor scale. There are other minor scales like melodic minor(1-2-b3-4-5-6-7) and harmonic Minor(1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7).
You can use the minor scale formula with any key and construct a minor scale.
Natural Minor Scale In Every Key
Major Scale Formula
|C||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||C D Eb F G Ab Bb|
|Db/C#||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb|
|D||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||D E F G A Bb C|
|Eb/D#||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db|
|E||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||E F# G A B C D|
|F||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||F G Ab Bb C Db Eb|
|Gb/F#||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||F# G# A B C# D E|
|G||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||G A Bb C D Eb F|
|Ab/G#||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb|
|A||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||A B C D E F G|
|Bb/A#||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab|
|B||1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7||B C# D E F# G A|
CAGED System For Learning Scales On Guitar
The CAGED system works by using common open chord shapes to map out the guitar neck into five distinct sections. It helps simplify the fretboard by revealing the relationship between common open chord shapes and note/interval arrangement on the guitar.
You can also use the CAGED system to learn scales and chords all over the fret board.
All C Major Scale Shapes
Difference Between Major and Minor Scales
The primary difference between the major and minor scale is the third scale degree. In the major scale, the third degree is always major(Major Third Interval). In minor scales, the third degree is always a minor(Minor Third Interval).
If there is only a minor third degree, it becomes a Melodic Minor Scale. If third degree, sixth-degree and seventh-degree are minor — Natural Minor Scale. If Third and sixth-degree are minor — Harmonic Minor Scale.
These minor intervals bring a dissonance to the minor scales, which makes them sound dark and sad. While in a major scale, there are no minor intervals, making all the notes in consonance and sound joyful, upbeat, happy.
In the future lessons, we will learn more scales and how you can use scales in music.
If you have any suggestions, please do share your feedback in the comments section.
If you wish to dig deep into music theory and scales, I suggest you complement your learning with some of the best music theory books.
If you wish to learn about rhythm, check out this article — Understanding Rhythm.
Beginner Guitar Lessons
- Lesson 1 — Parts Of Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar
- Lesson 2 — How To Hold The Guitar and Guitar Pick
- Lesson 3 — How To Tune The Guitar
- Lesson 4 — How To Read Guitar Tabs and Chord Diagram
- Lesson 5 — Easy Guitar Chords For Beginners
- Lesson 6 — D Major And G Major Chords
- Lesson 7 — A Major, B Major and E Major Chords
- Lesson 8 — E Minor & D Minor Chords
- Lesson 9 — Guitar Strumming Basics For Beginners
- Lesson 10 — How To Play F Major Chord On Guitar
- Lesson 11 — Music Theory Basics For Beginner Guitarist
- Lesson 12 — How To Play Barre Chords On Guitar
- Lesson 13 — How To Palm Mute A Guitar
- Lesson 14 — How To Learn Scales On Guitar For Beginners
- Lesson 15 – Learn Chord Formulas And Chord Inversions
- Lesson 16 – How To Know Chords In A Major Scale And Chord Progression
- Lesson 17 – Parts Of A Song And Song Structure
- Bonus Lesson – How To Write Your First Song On Acoustic Guitar